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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 July 2006, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Bush to press Putin on freedoms
US President George W Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Stralsund, Germany
Mr Bush described Germany as America's key ally
US President George W Bush has said he will be "firm" in expressing his concerns about freedoms in Russia to President Vladimir Putin.

"Our job is to continue to remind Russia if she wants to continue to have good relations she needs to share common values," Mr Bush said.

"But I'm also going to be respectful," he said ahead of a G8 summit in Russia.

Mr Bush's comments came at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Stralsund, Germany.

Mr Bush's two-day visit to the German Baltic port is the first by the president since Mrs Merkel came to power last year.

The two leaders also discussed a number of issues, including the Middle East, Iran's nuclear stand-off and North Korea's missile tests during the talks described by Mr Bush as a "strategy session".

'Firm belief'

Mr Bush said he would tell Mr Putin during the G8 summit in St Petersburg that non-governmental organisation should be allowed to function in Russia "without intimidation".

Everything has been done for this visit to go well
Wolfgang Schaeuble,
German Interior Minister

"I'll be firm about my belief in certain democratic institutions," Mr Bush said.

"I'll be firm in belief about the need for there [in Russia] to be an active civil society."

Mr Bush said he would raise these concerns with Mr Putin in their private meetings, without lecturing him.

His comments came a day after Mr Putin accused Western critics of Russia's record on democracy of using "colonialist" rhetoric.

In TV interviews, he said it was unacceptable for the West to use the issue to interfere in Russia's affairs.

Security concerns

Mr Bush is spending most of Thursday in the former East Germany, where Mrs Merkel grew up, in her parliamentary constituency of Stralsund.

Special police forces watch the area around the marketplace of Stralsund
Police are on high alert around Stralsund's Old Town

Security in the area has been stepped up ahead of planned protests against Mr Bush's visit.

Residents have been forced to move their cars out of the centre and everything from bicycles to flower pots have been ordered inside, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The BBC's Tristana Moore in Berlin says the fact Mr Bush has been invited to Stralsund is being seen as a sign of the close personal relationship between the two leaders.

Mrs Merkel has already visited Washington twice since coming to power, and analysts say the US has become Germany's most important partner outside of the EU.

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